White House Reinforcing Support for Public Plan After Recent Dust-Ups
On Tuesday, the Obama administration restated its support for a public insurance plan option to be included in health reform legislation, CongressDaily reports.
The statement comes after members of the media and liberal Democrats interpreted recent comments made by President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as indicators of a flux in policy (Hunt, CongressDaily, 8/18).
On Sunday, Sebelius said on CNN that a public option was not an "essential element" of health reform, and on Saturday, Obama said that a public plan is "not the entirety of health care reform," adding that it is "just one sliver of it" (California Healthline, 8/18).
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday denied that the administration was backing off its support of a public plan option.
On Tuesday, he reiterated his stance, saying that "the president, his position, the administration's position, is unchanged: that we have a goal of fostering choice and competition in a private health insurance market. The president prefers the public plan option as a way of doing that. If others have ideas, we're open to those ideas and willing to listen to those details. That's what the president has said for months" (Nicholas, Los Angeles Times, 8/19).
Gibbs added that the administration has been "boringly consistent" in regard to its position on the public plan option (Bettelheim, CQ Today, 8/18).
Sebelius Comments Overanalyzed, Officials Say
Gibbs told reporters that the media had "overreacted" to comments made by Sebelius (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 8/19). He denied that she was signaling a potential shift in policy to seek a compromise with those who do not support the public plan option.
Gibbs said, "If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing three months ago, and it just got picked up," adding, "It's not a signal" (Youngman, The Hill, 8/18).
On Tuesday, Sebelius said that although the administration's support of the public plan option has remained unchanged, the White House is open to a proposal that would establish not-for-profit health insurance cooperatives, which could secure votes from Republicans and conservative Democrats.
However, the proposal does not have widespread support from some key Democratic leaders (Weber, Washington Times, 8/18).
Democratic Lawmakers Comment on Public Plan
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's health care task force, said she was reassured by comments from the White House that the president is not weakening his position on the public plan option. She said, "I take the administration at its word, and the word is that nothing has changed" (The Hill, 8/18).
Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on Tuesday released a statement emphasizing the importance of a public plan component to overhauling the health care system. He said, "At this historic moment, faced with an urgent crisis in our health care system but blessed with an unprecedented opportunity to fix it, we cannot let politics as usual prevent us from delivering on the promise of change."
According to Roll Call, the statement does not mention recent comments by Obama or Sebelius, but the timing of its release signals that Dodd is unwilling to consider alternatives to the public plan (Drucker, Roll Call, 8/18).
Obama To Focus on Reform as a Moral Imperative
Obama likely will shift tactics for selling the need for reform in September as he faces pressure from supporters to focus more on the "moral imperative" of expanding health coverage to all U.S. residents, the Wall Street Journal reports.
A senior official said the new strategy will consist of more speeches, rather than informal town-hall meetings.
Obama on Wednesday is expected to "present a more emotional appeal" for reform during a conference call with liberal religious groups, such as Faith in Public Life, the Journal reports (Weisman, Wall Street Journal, 8/19).
Obama Rallies Supporters
On Thursday, Obama will hold "a live strategy meeting" with grass-roots supporters on health care, according to officials, Politico reports.
The meeting -- called the Organizing for America National Health Care Forum -- will be available online and via conference call begin at 2:30 p.m. EST.
An e-mail sent to more than 13 million people, inviting them to participate in the meeting, states that Obama will "lay out our strategy and message going forward and answer questions from supporters like you. And we'll unveil the next actions we'll organize together" (Allen, Politico, 8/18).
- New York Times : Obama "should not give up" on the public plan option "without first getting a strong alternative to achieve the same goals -- and so far there is nothing very strong on the political horizon," a Times editorial states. The editorial states that if the White House and Democratic leaders decide to reform health care without Republican endorsement, "and they may well have to, they should restore a robust public plan" (New York Times, 8/19).
- USA Today : The possibility of many people choosing a public plan option over private health insurance is not something "to fear," a USA Today editorial states. According to the editorial, the "public plan option is no boogeyman. It is a way to save taxpayers money while empowering people to make the choices Congress cannot" (USA Today, 8/19).
- David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times: The "point" of the health care debate "isn't whether the government should offer its own insurance product," but "how we can extend coverage to the roughly 47 million" uninsured U.S. residents, "how we can rein in runaway medical costs" and "how we can ensure that people with health problems or pre-existing conditions aren't denied coverage, or aren't hit with" expensive monthly premiums, columnist Lazarus writes. He adds, "The point is how we can overhaul our health care system to make it more equitable, fair and accessible" (Lazarus, Los Angeles Times, 8/19).
- Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), USA Today: The U.S. needs health reform, but a government-run public plan option "would drive up costs and make the situation worse" because "[m]onopolies never bring down costs or improve efficiency," Enzi writes. According to Enzi, A "government-run plan will not pass in the Senate," but the "co-op approach has potential and should be considered" (Enzi, USA Today, 8/19).
- Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post: The public plan option "is not the be-all and end-all of health care reform," columnist Pearlstein writes. Pearlstein concludes that "the public option is a political non-starter that threatens the entire reform effort. It's time to let it go" (Pearlstein, Washington Post, 8/19).
- ABC News' "World News with Charles Gibson" reported on the status of the public plan option (Wright, "World News with Charles Gibson," ABC News, 8/18).
- NPR's "All Things Considered" reports on support and criticism of the public plan option in Congress. The segment includes comments from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of the America's Health Insurance Plans (Siegel, "All Things Considered, NPR, 8/18).
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Leher" reported on comments made by Aetna CEO Ron Williams that the public plan option is the wrong way to reform health care (Woodruff, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 8/18).